We have resident status in both Ecuador and Panama and are US citizens. Between the two countries we have lived outside of the United States for almost 5 years. In that time we have learned many things, mostly the difference between the culture that we grew up in and the Central and South American cultures. The following is a general guideline that we try to live by:
First and foremost we are visitors. We can be asked to leave at any time. We try to be on our best behavior and don’t act like the “Ugly American”. I do not want to ruin it for anyone else.
We treat people with respect and dignity and follow the rules and regulations that the government has in place. We cannot vote until we are residents for five years, so we keep our political opinions to ourselves. Recently President Correa told everyone living on the coast to evacuate for their safety. It was a costly several days leaving town, but we did. We did this for our safety but, more importantly, we were TOLD that we needed to evacuate and so we did. Our role here is not to figure out “what we can get away with”
The Ecuadorian people, government and local officials do not need us to tell them how it was done back in the states.
If I felt the need to help I would volunteer by joining an Ecuadorian run group. It would not be my place to bitch about the way things were being run. Local folks might actually know what they need better than us
It is not anyone’s fault if I fall into an open pit on the sidewalk except mine….I know the streets and sidewalks are less than perfect so I am responsible to watch where I am walking. In the states we were raised to believe that the government will take care of you, if you do something stupid you can just sue somebody else, if you leave your car out in the driveway with the keys in it the police will be responsible for it if it is stolen etc ….
Here personal responsibility rules. A friend in Panama said if you leave your bicycle on the porch and it is stolen it was your fault, including putting the idea in the mind of someone going by who could see it. It took us a while to wrap our minds around that one, but now we understand. The idea that if a real estate deal does not work out exactly like you thought or how someone represented things to you, that you can always sue them – does not work here. What are you going to do to the person who is down here acting as a realtor if he lied to you? Have his license taken away? He probably doesn’t have one here. Buyer beware, do your own research, measure twice, cut once and don’t be in too much of a hurry to do it right the first time
I try very hard to be aware of my surroundings and would never consider walking several blocks behind our home in the middle of the night – it’s just common sense. I love it here but let’s be realistic. I won’t lie about crime here. There is a big difference between accepting faults and pretending they don’t exist.
We did a lot of research before we moved and decided that buying was not the best for us. And that we needed to be cautious of folks trying to rush you into buying something that is too good to be true – because it is probably just that – too good to be true. We also researched attorneys and would not do anything here without the help of one. A competent lawyer who can read the documents, explain the paperwork and keep you out of trouble is worth their fee. Remember they know the laws of their country, let one help you. Cheap is not cheap if something goes wrong! Anyone can read the regulations and laws but the right attorney knows how the current government interprets and enforces them. We don’t.
We learned early on to ask “how much” before we get into a taxi. This saved us from occasionally paying $5 for a $2 trip. You can always say no before you get in, but you are kind of stuck once you arrive at your destination in the taxi. I have on occasion refused to pay $3 for what I know is a $2 taxi ride – I paid him what I know is the correct amount and walked away.
We spent months researching Ecuador using Travel guides, expat forums and speaking to folks already living here. It gave us a basic understanding of the areas we were interested in. Our research saved us a lot of headaches because we knew what to expect. One thing we did learn was just because a guide or anyone said something didn’t mean it was so. I guess we kept an open mind to other people’s opinions but waited until we saw it with our own eyes.
We opened our hearts and embraced the cultural difference. The Ecuadorian people are wonderful and treat us like family. Mutual respect and tolerance seems to work for us.
We learned not to “assume” anything. This is not Kansas, Dorothy- things are done differently here than the US. Do not show up with your bag of “Preconceived Notions” as they will not work here. There is no Denny’s , Walmart, Wendy’s Drive-thru etc. Many things are not better or worse, just different.
We also learned that we could not move to Ecuador until we had settled up in Panama. We could not move to Panama until we had settled up in the US. In other words we could not have one foot in one country and the other in the other country – we needed to cut the cord emotionally first. That does not mean that we would have to sell everything, denounce our state and country and leave never to return. But we needed to have the attitude that the new country is going to be our home instead of continuing to look back lusting for that other life. If we felt that we cannot leave our country of origin behind then we should not have moved. We would have been unhappy trying to make the new country into what we left behind. Constant comparison is not a good thing!
There are many things that are not the same as where we came from. They will never be like back home. Keep in mind this is a developing country. We learned to be flexible, patient, and adopted the “tranquilo” attitude because that is what will work to make the transition. WE must be the ones to change, as we will not change this country or it’s people.
We are not telling anyone what to do, how to do it or preaching — this is just a list of things that we have learned that have helped us be better neighbors, better visitors and happier people while in this beautiful country. This is our personal journey and we thank you for sharing it.